Monday, August 26, 2013

Rant on Linguistic Science

My dear friend Butch (yeah, the brilliant, sublime, humble etc., etc.) and I are involved in a linguistic dispute over the pronunciation of the nickname "Arcy", which is what Arcangelo Hellman (among other things a renowned trance music DJ) prefers to call himself these days. 

Butch emphatically claims that the nickname should be pronounced with a hard c ([k] as in car), i.e. Ar[k]y, because "it is short for Ar[k]angelo". I - with equal stubbornness - support the claim that the c before a y must be pronounced as a soft c (/s/ as in cent), i.e. Ar/s/y.

Today I decided to settle the dispute once and for all, by looking for evidence to support my claim which I could slam on his thick skull. In the first lines of Wikipedia's article on "Hard and soft c" I found gratifying support for my claim:
"In the Latin-based orthographies of many European languages (including English), a distinction between hard and soft ⟨c⟩ occurs in which ⟨c⟩ represents two distinct phonemes. The sound of a hard ⟨c⟩ (which often precedes the non-front vowels ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩ and ⟨u⟩) is that of the voiceless velar stop, [k] (as in car) while the sound of a soft ⟨c⟩ (typically before ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩ and ⟨y⟩), depending on language, may be a fricative or affricate. In English, the sound of soft ⟨c⟩ is /s/ (as in cent).
Well, I wish I had stopped reading there, but as an attorney I know that there is rarely a rule without an exception, and sometimes even exceptions to the exceptions and more often than not exceptions to the exceptions of the exception of the rule, ad infinitum. That applies especially when it comes to the human sciences, of which linguistics is one. The modern approach among scholars in these fields seems mostly intent on recording and explaining the usage instead of informing the knowledge seeking general public of what is right and what is wrong.

Instead of laying down the law, there is a widespread sloppy tolerance for wrong usage if enough people start using it. This annoying policy of permissiveness and "laissez faire" irks me, because I would prefer if they would just condemn certain usages as totally wrong and never to be used by any reasonable man ever again. Actually I have , in both spoken Swedish and English, encountered the pronunciation [k]an[k]er for the deadly disease cancer (which most commonly is pronounced [k]an/s/er), I have even seen it spelled as "kanker" in both languages. It almost killed me - both times, I should think the scholars will allow it soon enough, if they haven't done so already.

This rant has now lead me to the conclusion that I am going to ask Arcangelo Hellman how he wishes his nickname to be pronounced and act in accordance with that wish.

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